Chamber Offers Support for Pipeline Project at DEP Hearing

On Tuesday, June 13, Chamber President Fred Gaffney issued comments in support of the Atlantic Sunrise Gas Pipeline Project at a hearing of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The hearing, held at the Bloomsburg High School, was specific to permits related to water obstruction and encroachment and erosion and sediment control. Pending approval of the permits, the project is expected to begin construction later this summer.

The Atlantic Sunrise Project, coordinated by Williams, will expand the Transco gas pipeline system with a new pipe approximately 185 miles long connecting the existing pipeline just north of Columbia County to southeast Pennsylvania. The project will allow more efficient transmission of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus natural gas. Construction will be divided into seven sections, and is expected to take one year. The economic impact for just Columbia County is estimated at $85.5 million.

The Chamber’s research indicates that modern pipeline technology provides among the safest methods of transporting natural gas. The Chamber Board previously passed a resolution supporting the expansion of Pennsylvania’s natural gas transportation and distribution pipeline infrastructure. Specific to this project, Williams has demonstrated its concern for property owners and the environment with the adoption of more than 400 route modifications affecting more than 60 percent of its original route.

More information on the DEP permit process is available on the agency’s website.

More information about the Atlantic Sunrise project is available here.

Columbia Montour Chamber Participates in Chamber Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More than 100 state and local chamber officials from across the Commonwealth, including Fred Gaffney, Columbia Montour Chamber President and Dan Knorr, Board Member, came together on Tuesday, June 6th to participate in 2017 Chamber Day.  The annual event, which is co-hosted by the PA Chamber of Business and Industry and the Pennsylvania Association of Chamber Professionals, allows local chambers to meet with key policymakers and discuss ways to improve Pennsylvania’s business climate and competitive edge. 

“While we have a good working relationship with our state delegation, it is beneficial to travel to Harrisburg from time to time to meet with legislators,” said Gaffney. “Chamber Day also provides the opportunity to show a unified voice statewide on issues of importance to employers.”

Participants met with elected officials and cabinet members throughout the day, including Gov. Tom Wolf, who served as the keynote speaker during the Chamber Day luncheon. Senate Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson, and Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny both kicked off the event with welcoming remarks at the State Capitol.  The day-long event also featured policy discussions on a variety of topics, including: the 2017-18 state budget, pension reform, property taxes, workforce development, as well as the Commonwealth’s transportation and infrastructure needs. The legislature passed the pension reform plan during that week, which was signed by Governor Wolf on Monday, June 12th. As budget discussions continue, there was no clear plan provided for filling the budget gap estimated at nearly $3 billion.

Pension Reform Finally Passes

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

In a whirlwind of activity last week, the General Assembly passed and sent to Gov. Tom Wolf an important public pension reform bill that will help to rein in the what has been unsustainable growth of the state pension systems, shift a significant portion of the risk from potentially under-performing investments off of state taxpayers and help to secure the future sustainability of state and public school employees’ retirement plans. Governor Tom Wolf signed the legislation into law on Monday.

Senate Bill 1, which was passed 40-9 by the Senate last Wednesday and 143-53 by the House on Thursday, offers a choice of three new retirement plan options for new employees hired after 2019 within the State Employees Retirement System and the Public School Employees Retirement System, along with an opt-in provision for current workers.  Two of the choices offer hybrid defined benefit, defined contribution plans, while the third option is a defined contribution, 401k-style plan.

Prior to the Senate and House votes on the bill, the PA Chamber sent memos to both chambers urging their support for the measure. The memos noted that while the organization is ready to support additional steps to mitigate rising costs in the near term, it believes that S.B. 1 will put the state pension systems on a better path to stability and sustainability. These beliefs are strengthened through findings by the education advocacy organization PennCAN, which has found that few teachers do better under the existing PSERS pension plan than they would under a plan like S.B. 1; and from the Pew Charitable Trusts, which has noted that the bill would be one of the most – if not the most – comprehensive and impactful reform any state has implemented.

ChamberChoice Offers Free Three-Part Webinar on Health Insurance Cost Reduction Strategies

ChamberChoice will offer a special three-part webinar series titled “Health Insurance Cost Reduction Strategies” on the second Thursday of July-September. This service is available free-of-charge to all Chamber members as a benefit of membership through the Chamber’s affinity programs through ChamberChoice

The schedule and topics of the webinar series are listed below. For more information or to register for the webinar, visit here.

Thursday, July 13, 10 a.m. – Risk analysis: Understand health conditions and costs within your workforce to reduce future costs.

Thursday, August 10, 10 a.m. – Employee contribution strategies: Reduce employer expense and increase employee take-home pay (PSA, HRA, HSA).

Thursday, September 14, 10 a.m. – Healthcare cost transparency

IRS Announces HSA/HDHP Limits

From ChamberChoice

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) have become one of the more popular spending accounts for both employees and employers. HSAs are tax-favored IRA-type trust or custodial accounts that can be contributed to by, or on behalf of, “eligible individuals” who are covered by certain High-Deductible Health Plans (HDHPs). The HSA can be used to pay for certain qualified medical expenses of the eligible individuals and their spouses and tax dependents.

Only an “eligible individual” can establish an HSA and make HSA contributions or have them made on his or her behalf. There are two groups of individuals who are ineligible for HSA contributions: those who can be claimed as tax dependents, and those who are entitled to Medicare. As a side note, “entitled to Medicare” means enrolled in and receiving Medicare benefits. Thus, mere eligibility for Medicare benefits (without enrollment) will not disqualify an individual from HSA eligibility.

An HSA-eligible individual can make contributions (up to statutory limits) to an HSA and get an “above-the-line” tax deduction, which means that the contributions reduce the individual’s adjusted gross income before itemized or standard deductions are considered. On the other hand, instead of an “above the line” deduction, many employers permit employees to contribute to an HSA on a pre-tax basis through the employer’s cafeteria plan [Note: An employee having deductions done pretax through an employer cannot also take an above the line deduction on tax forms]. Any investment earnings generated on HSA funds are also generally tax-free. HSA funds withdrawn for qualified medical expenses escape federal taxation entirely.

In order to be eligible to establish an HSA, an individual must be covered under an HDHP for the months for which contributions are made to the HSA. In addition, an eligible individual cannot have coverage under any non-HDHP that provides coverage for any benefit covered by the HDHP. IRS guidance interprets this coverage restriction to mean that any other health coverage, that is not a HDHP would disqualify an otherwise eligible individual unless it only constitutes preventive care, certain permitted coverage, or certain permitted insurance. As a reminder, this prohibition on having other non-HDHP coverage includes health plans such as health Flexible Spending Accounts (health FSAs) or Health Reimbursement Arrangements (HRAs).

Recently, the IRS issued the inflation adjusted amounts applicable to HSAs and HDHPs. The following chart compares the 2017 and 2018 limitations.

It’s not too early to start reviewing current employee benefits offered and planning on what to provide in 2018. An employer currently offering a HDHP in conjunction with an HSA needs to ensure that any health plan limitations will meet the IRS requirements. 

As a benefit to Chamber members, JRG Advisors, the management team behind ChamberChoice, are available on a consultative basis to assist members in planning their healthcare benefits offerings. They can be reached at 1-800-377-3539 or visit their website for more information.